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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Evolution of Archaeo Field Camp Part 1

I have been running remote archaeological excavations and surveys for over 10 years now, and during that time our camps have evolved quite a bit.  Our field camps have gone from minimalist to 'cushy' and then back again to 'cushy minimalist'.

My first archaeo field camps owed a lot to what I had already been doing on remote hunting and skiing trips - basically I tried to go as lightweight as possible.  Our camp was designed to fit into backpacks.  No electric fence, no raft, no cook tent, no nothing really.  We did bring along archaeological gear (transit, shovels, buckets etc), stainless steel bear proof containers, a Coleman 2 burner stove, and a chair for Don - so were not strictly 'backpack' mobile.  When we moved camp that first year we floated the bear containers in an inflatable truck tire inter tube with a weaved mesh seat - this did NOT work very well.

Neither did the no electric fence idea, and near a commonly used campsite a problem bear raided our food supply (see chewed plastic tote in third photo).  We had kept our cooking area and tents separate, and I learned another lesson.  ALWAYS sleep close to your food so that you can hear the thieves at work and defend your stuff! Every night the bear kept on coming back into camp but we put shovels and trowels etc on top of our gear, and when I heard the commotion I'd get up.  The zipper on my tent opening was enough to cause the habituated bear to run away (he'd been shot with bean bags numerous times by the USFWS ranger).  One time I awoke, and the bear was trying to get away carrying one of the huge steel bear proof containers.

That year when the sun shined eating our meals outside was quite pleasant.  However, eating outside was NOT pleasant in the rain and wind.  We ended up creating a tent using our transit tripod as a center pole.  Also, after losing half our food we ended up eating king salmon extensively, and learned the meaning of the term - protein starvation.  Carbos, fat and variety are VERY important. In 2003 on the Ayakulik River we lived like refugees.

Don and Mark eating breakfast on the Ayakulik River 2003

Don enjoying a beverage - Ayakulik 2003

Living like refugees - our dinner 'tent' Ayakulik 2003

After that experience, on subsequent surveys we started to bring an electric fence, inflatable canoes, a lightweight cook tent, and a few more amenities, like chairs, along on surveys.  Our fence runs on aa batteries and weighs less than 10 pounds (with wire and poles), and the cook tent weighs only a couple of pounds.  So we were still pretty lightweight, and this was important.  For instance, it allowed us to fly 4 people and gear to Chirikof Island for a 2 week survey and fit in one load for the 2 1/2 hour floatplane trip (under 1200 pounds total).

Still when it rained or blew very hard we had to take down our cook tent.  Also, we barely fit inside and it was sort of like a weird game of Twister to get everyone situated for meals.  We thought we had it pretty good, but bad weather meant we were tent bound for the duration.  There really was no way to warm up and dry gear - the only option was to wear more clothes or hunker down in your sleeping bag.

Camp on Chirikof Island 2005 complete with electric fence

Catherine, Mark and Don living large in the Black Diamond Mega Light - Red Lake 2004
The next step in our field camp evolution was teepees with woodstoves.  And this was HUGE.  But to read about it you will have to wait until my next post.  Patrick

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